Anita Stefańska, PhD, University of Poznań, Poland discusses the benefits of drama and theatre in education for people with intellectual disability


Understanding, for people with intellectual disabilities, the inter-subjective relationships of the social world through drama, is a rich source of further study. Further research should also analyze theater projects through which the disabled person has the chance to show his moral attitude, which this article has sought to address.

AnitaBoosting resourcefulness and optimism in people with disabilities, by highlighting their independence and involvement in the creative process, is one of the objectives of the author’s concept of the theatre therapy named Theatre of Thought[1]. Theatrical techniques are used to help reduce resistance against the disclosure of one’s own emotional experiences, help in realising one’s beliefs, expectations and aspirations; this is in turn an expression of the behaviour involved in communication, and promotes a better understanding of each other for the participants.

Theatre provides considerable potential, with all of its connected exercises of playing, interaction and communication activities, as learning processes that go beyond the aims of theatre as art: the social learning and learning for personal growth according to the spirit of humanistic psychology. About the middle of the 1980’s, some theatre practitioners, pedagogues and therapists formed the idea of a therapeutic perspective which lay in theatre playing, and decided to explore it systematically.

Role-playing real-life situations and watching others do so allows   participants to rehearse a skill until it becomes part of their skills repertoire.


Just like all of us, cognitively impaired individuals have a life story and the need to be heard. They also have a need to create. This form of therapy employs the language of arts to promote healing and well-being. This form of therapy employs the language arts to promote healing and well being. Benefits include cognitive stimulation, reminiscence and reflection on one’s life story, a therapeutic release of life’s stressors, and facilitation of meaningful communication.

Despite their differences, drama therapy and formal theatre are moving closer together. Drama therapy also gives people the opportunity to change their life’s narratives. Creativity is the birthright of every human being.

Using experiential drama therapy and role-playing to teach emotions and body language, participants can be in control of their emotions. As in theatre class, we train them how to act in certain situations-what emotions look like. This is a safer place in which to experiment. Another strength is that drama therapy potentially uses many other modalities, including the visual arts, music, dance, poetry, and movement.

Drama Therapy/Theatre Therapy

The meaning of both terms is similar[2], sometimes used interchangeably[3]. Drama simultaneously engages the human mind and spirit. This form of therapy uses drama/theatre processes and products to achieve symptom relief, emotional and physical integration, and personal growth. It facilitates the client’s ability to tell his/her story, solve problems, set goals, express feelings appropriately, extend the depth and breadth of inner experience, improve interpersonal skills and relationships. Drama techniques – are the everyday tools of the drama teacher. They help to develop enquiry skills, to encourage negotiation, understanding and creativity. Cognitive and communication skills are maximized, creativity and individuality are fostered; and physical activity is encouraged. Such therapy builds community and strengthens self-esteem.

In drama therapy, participants acquire knowledge of themselves by creative and artistic activities, provided they participate actively. The degree of involvement in the creative process, to some extent determines the willingness to reveal the realm of their feelings, passions and dreams. It often happens that participants take on tasks that would be commonly assessed as exceeding the psychophysical capabilities of a disabled person.

The key element of drama therapy with intellectually disabled people is the focus on the person having the ability to overcome the difficulties of their lives by making independent choices. This kind of therapy requires therapists to watch how actors approach the play, how they communicate and interact with other participants, whether they are patient enough to work in a team, how they focus during the task, and in what situations they fully succumb to the sheer pleasure of doing something. These types of behaviours give the foundation for a feeling of having a positive impact on the environment, and ultimately develop confidence.

Participants viewed their satisfaction with the course differently. For some, it was achieving self-acceptance in some extraordinary situations, while for others; it is establishing positive relationships with previously unknown people. In the course of creative activities, some accumulated tension and feelings may get released, causing for some a barrier to their expression and understanding of feelings. The spontaneity of expression in theatrical techniques lowers the resistance to block the disclosure of one’s feelings. The experience of personal change in a drama group also brings the hope of transferring those skills into everyday life[4].

[1]  The author’s own concept of  The Theatre of Thought is described by the author in: A. Stefańska  Teatroterapia jako metoda kształtowania poczucia godności u osób niepełnosprawnych,   Poznań- Kalisz 2012,p.233-249

[2]A. Stefańska: Wokół podstawowych haseł teatroterapii. Cz. 1. Próba ustaleń terminologicznych.see: data dostępu 10-12.2014

[3] L. Neuman: From the German theatre therapy practice. In: L.Kossolapow, S. Scoble, D. Waller (eds.) Arts – Therapies – Communication Vol. 3. Europeran Arts Therapy. Different Approaches to a Unique Discipline Opening Regional Portals. Lit Verlag, Muenster, 2005, p. 337 -339., Mitchell S: Therapeutic theatre: a paratheatrical model for dramatherapy. In: Jennings S., (ed.) Dramatherapy, theory and practice for teachers and clinicians. 2. London, Routledge 1992.

[4] I Yalom, M.Leszcz :Psychoterapia grupowa. Teoria i Praktyka. Kraków 2006, s. 487–491.


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